I never gave the white fox’s tail to the King. I never even mentioned Desiderium’s name, knowing that I had to keep a secret with Nestor.  Somehow, the King knew of the kidnapping. Even Nestor was stunned by this revelation. In fact, he had bolted into my chamber fairly early in the morning, which caused Marie to reprimand him.
          “The Princess is not fully dressed!” Marie argued as she tried to stop him from entering the room.
          “I could not care less!” He thrashed and pushed his way into the room. She succumbed to his demands, and then excused herself in a slightly irritated manner. He was acutely panting while mumbling, “This . . . this was not what I had envisioned. S-someone . . . someone must have told the King. I had not perceived this in my vision.”
          I retrieved a coat from my wardrobe to cover my nightgown. “Are you not able to perceive everything?” I asked.
          “We all have limitations to their power,” he replied after inhaling a few more breaths. “I can only picture the distant future, not the near future. I am sure though that the King will employ the Queen’s method onto you.”
          “What are you suggesting?”
          “Have you ever heard of shadows?” 
          I lied, “No.”
          “Well, you will soon learn of your shadow. It will only be a matter of time that he demands a formal meeting. Remain at ease, and soon, he will call for you,” he instructed in his familiar, calm demeanour. This was the Nestor that I knew, not the hasty, unnerved one that I had just witnessed.
          Because he had regained his composure, he proceeded to leave. “Where are you heading?” I pondered.
          “I have an important matter to resolve,” he answered.
          Before he could scurry to his destination, Sir Nathaniel had already appeared with a beige scroll tied with a red ribbon in his hand. He untied it like as if he had announced sentences for years. There was no heartfelt tone in his voice as he read from his script, “Sorcerer, you are charged with treason.”
          “For?” Nestor blinked.
          Sir Nathaniel announced monotonously, “For assisting Desiderium and her clan of Scientians in the kidnapping of the Princess.”
          Then, two guards pulled Nestor away, chaining him with metal locks from his arms to his legs. This was the traditional way of treating prisoners. In Urcis, there was a saying how there was no escape for evilness for these shackles were impossible to fracture. These shackles were one of Nestor’s inventions. Now, he was bounded by his own invention. There was no means of fleeing unless he obtained a master key. Every lock had its own master key. I was already examining for the symbols carved onto the side of the chains. This was the only means of identifying the master key.
          “That is preposterous,” Nestor argued.
          “I am afraid the King has made his decision, and we must follow his orders,” Sir Nathaniel answered and bounded the ribbon around the scroll once again.
          Noticing the danger that Nestor was facing, I stated, “Sir Nathaniel, the Sorcerer is not at fault. He was the one who protected me.”
          I stepped in front of Sir Nathaniel, barring him from leaving.
          “You would have to discuss with the King, Your Highness.” Sir Nathaniel politely reasoned and took a bow before leading his guards away.
          “Then would you please inform Your Majesty that I would like to have a formal meeting?” I requested.
          To everyone’s surprise, the King appeared, clad in his typical regal attire. “There is no need for a formal meeting,” he announced.
          “Your Majesty.” All of us bowed.
          “You may all rise,” the King uttered before thrusting a tirade. “Nestor . . . how dare you betray me! You found that woman yet you did not even inform me of this information. You even conspired with her . . . allowed her to escape from this palace!” He pointed to the chains. “What were these devised for . . . ?”
          “Your Majesty, I can explain,” Nestor was on all fours, begging for forgiveness.
          The King scoffed, refusing to make eye contact with him, “And you thought no one would know about your employment of the Kuyaza? You had no idea that I had already employed them?”
          Now that I recalled, the way Cael or Beau had coordinated with the masked man was highly atypical and in fact, seemed too perfect. I also remembered too what Verill had mentioned once during Trenton’s conversation with me, “The Kuyaza are essentially equivalent to noblemen, but they are much more than mere nobles. They are an undeniable, powerful force with their leader obtaining a status like that of a King’s.”
          Then, Cael had sneered, “Like that of a King’s, you say, Verrill?” At Verrill’s nod, Cael scowled, “We do not call him a King. Compassion does not exist in his heart. Do you know what the rulers deem him?” Verill had shaken his head, and so Cael had continued to say, “They call him Diabolos, the devil.”
          I had disregarded this statement, thinking that it was folklore, but now I understood what Cael had meant. The leader of the Kuyaza certainly resembled the devil. Who would have accepted two missions that directly coincided with each other? Loyalty, I supposed, was handed to the group with more supremacy and opulence. Of course, the King would triumph over Nestor.
          “Y-You . . . sent a spy on me?” Nestor for the first time was stammering. “To think . . . I had departed my own country to follow you.”
          His own country? Wasn’t Nestor from . . . Urcis? I didn’t understand now what had happened. I was too dumbfounded to begin to understand.
          The King urged, “You are to be banished, Sorcerer, from Urcis and the woman to be executed.”
          This was the sound of a decisive King. In fact, it was too inconsiderable of the King to exile Nestor. Where was their friendship? It seemed only moments ago that they were bantering, cooperating with each other. Now they were battling, quarrelling for reason.
          I gulped upon hearing Nestor revolt, “I do not wish to inform you of this, but I believe that I must now. You are heading towards your own fate, Your Majesty. You are the one that is causing the past to repeat itself, and until you dissolve what you fear, you will—“
          “You are foolish like that woman,” the King reprimanded as the guards dragged Nestor forward. “Did you truly believe that I would fall for your prophecies?”
          His question ended with laughter, like he had fooled even the wisest, like he was the King of the world. I felt disgusted that he was my father. I felt astonished that he could change so rapidly. Where was the King with a warm, concerning smile, the one who claimed that he only cared about games? I could sense from the condescending manner in which he glared at Nestor that that King had evanesced.
          With certitude, Nestor replied, “I understand now your intentions. I will do as you please, my King.”
          It was disheartening to witness a dignified, just man lower his head in subservience. Was it simply out of loyalty? Was it simply out of servitude?  No, it was simply out of acceptance. Nestor accepted his fate, knowing that sometimes, one could not change anything. Fate adored toying with humans. Expect the unexpected was a cliché which I remembered. The unexpected, I sighed, could be fate.
          I could not, however, allow fate to prevail, and so I pled, “Father, do not punish the Sorcerer. The one you should punish is me! I was the one that ventured to the forest, while he was the one who rescued me!”
          “My daughter,” he placed a hand on my shoulder while I watched Nestor being led by the guards, “the evidence was conclusive. He was conspiring with Desiderium, whom I am sure you would know has been banished.”
          I swore that I could not think. “It’s not fair,” I blurted. “It’s not fair.”
          “I understand that you and your brother were especially fond of the Sorcerer’s teachings, but I, as a King, cannot be lenient on those that have betrayed the kingdom,” he explained.
          I shook my head for I knew the truth, the repulsive truth. His goal was never to exhibit his fairness; his goal was only to eradicate those that threatened his status. This, I secretly scoffed at Ichiro, was the great King. This . . . was the King we all admired: an actor. And they have said that all the world’s a stage . . .
          Then I too would be an actress and so I shrugged his hand off of my shoulder. “I understand, Your Majesty.”
          “Now that you understand,” he immediately delved to his next point with a solemn croak, “I will tell you what I have concluded. I believe that you are in need of a shadow.”
          “Shadow?” It was such a familiar term, one that Cael or Beau had used.
          The King called out, “Sir Nathaniel, bring forth the girl.”
          Sir Nathaniel had once again appeared. It was amazing how he was always so near the King. Along with Sir Nathaniel was a girl about my height, my age, and my skin colour. Upon closer examination, however, I immediately recognized what a shadow meant. It was supposed to be interpreted literally and metaphorically. She was about to be a part of me, living behind me and even acting as me.
          “This is Calla, your shadow,” the King remarked. “This is Calla, your shadow. She will take your place in most public venues, but she will be a masked servant during other times. When she acts as you, you will consequently serve as her advisor or servant.”
          I was reminded of what Beau had confessed to me and perhaps of what he had said to me a long time ago. Those words that I had believed was of Cael’s had to be all Beau’s. They were the resonances of his inexplicable pain, in which his identity sluiced like the debris on a crisp, white plate. I felt my heart shrivel at what I had said to him. It was probably the worst, one could do: refuse to listen to a victim that was willing to speak. 
          Because I worried for him, I asked, “How would one differentiate us?”
          I now stared at the new being. She seemed timid, and maybe a couple of years younger than me, for she hid behind Sir Nathaniel. Fear even filled her bulging, naive eyes.
          The King ordered, “Sir Nathaniel, please do the honours.”
          Sir Nathaniel roughly tugged at Calla’s wrist, forcing her to come forth, to face me, the one for whom she was living. I could see hatred oozing from her evergreen eyes. I could see her struggling to maintain her anger. This was a girl who lived with odium. How pitiful, I thought.
          “Strip,” Sir Nathaniel stipulated.
          Calla incessantly shook her head, to which he used the shaft of his sword to strike at her knees. He was reminding her of her status. She was a shadow, not a princess. Unwavering she was and so, he persisted to batter her. Every blow was becoming more and more aggressive. I remembered reading a poem claiming that the pen was more powerful than the sword. I disagreed. The sword could inflict not only corporal torment, but also spiritual impairment. This would haunt her and she would have the lingering scars that served to remind her. A recurring nightmare.
          Blood emitted from the joints of her knees, from the edges of her shoulder blades. Blood, like an overflowing flood, inundated the thin, white robe that protected her dignity. I felt my heart contesting to my anxiety, my fear of the past occurring. I had seen many pass away. Death, itself, should have been treated apathetically. It was a natural process or in the eyes of the Naturalists, it was a cycle where what was left of us would be devoured by decomposers, which then replenished Mother Nature. Death was so logical, so reasonable, yet blood . . . was not. Perhaps, the aftermath was acceptable. It was only the process that agitated me.
          “Stop,” I commanded Sir Nathaniel. “There is no need to harm her.”
          The King rumbled, “If you do not assume your authority, then I warn you, you will become the shadow.”
          “Do not fret, Your Majesty,” I declared. “I will ensure that she receives the proper punishment for her disobedience.”
          Calla was so startled that she could barely move. Her head was almost to the ground with her hands shielding her chest. So, this was what she was protecting, I thought. Then, I knelt to her level.
          I whispered in her ear, “Please allow me to examine your chest. I assure you that I will not harm you like he did. I only want to understand the circumstances.”
          Her pupils crept upwards while her hands lost all sense of feeling, allowing them to fall naturally by her sides. As I helped her up by supporting part of her weight, I had accidentally glimpsed at her chest for her robe was draping too loosely from her frail body. This was unlike any scar. It had been purposely left unattended with the bubbling and peeling of the skin from an excoriating burn. Perhaps, more desecration had been imposed on it as well. Repetition was the approach to memorization and in this case, it was the memorization of pain and servility. No wonder she had refused to reveal herself.
          “Princess!” Sir Nathaniel yelled. “What in the heavens are you doing, treating a Lower Being?”
          Lower Beings were what the people of Uris called slaves, whose ancestors were prisoners of war or traitors of the country. Lower Beings were thoroughly detested by the citizens that there was a law created barring any Urcian from having any friendly relations with Lower Beings. Frankly, I did not know of Calla’s origins nor did I care. What I cared was a sense of fairness. If she were my shadow, then she needed to be faithful to me. Loyalty typically began with friendship.
          “Leave her be,” the King sighed and then directed his attention to me. “I am sure you understand what distinguishes the two of you. Before I depart, I must remind you that no one else shall know of your shadow’s existence.”
          I suddenly blurted, “Why is it even necessary for me to acquire a shadow?”
          The King slowly turned his head in my direction and noted, “I merely wanted to respect your mother’s last wish.”
          “Last wish?”
          “I had been meaning to inform you of your mother’s fatality. Unfortunately, that dancer murdered your mother before killing herself. Matters of the State did not permit me to tell you and sadly, the State and I had decided that it was better for the people to remain unaware of  . . .”
          I could not focus at all with my mind, senseless, and my heart, soulless. Death was a harsh word, how it slipped off the tip of the tongue with a clash. I had never expected this to happen. She was only supposed to be ill, not dead.
          I did not recall what happened next. I just remembered informing Marie to treat Calla’s wounds and then soon arriving in front of the closed gates of her living quarters. I was not afraid anymore to walk up the familiar set of stairs and to turn right until I reached the second to last door of the corridor. I still considered knocking and when my hand tapped three times the wooden door, I honestly thought I would see her again.
          Instead, I found him.
          There was that eerily, nostalgic feeling pounding from my heart. That had been a beautiful discovery, not like this one . . .
          I had just entered high school, and was a clueless student afraid of the colossal structure of the school. It had just been my luck to have forgotten my pencil case in a classroom. I couldn’t remember where I had left my belongings, so I had to search every class I had attended that day during lunch.
          I didn’t think much when I opened the door to a dim room full of sculptures and paintings. As I scanned the room, I saw him with his arms crossed, and his eyes closed. He was sitting in a chair, seemingly sleeping, yet a set of earphones had been plugged into his ears. He should have been awake by now, but he was so still and so peaceful.
I didn’t know who he was nor could I tell who he could be for there was only a glimpse of light casting on him. Even then, I found myself unable to move. I wanted to stare at him longer, wondering what he sounded like and what his eyes actually looked like.
I would have if he hadn’t barked, “Who are you?”
“I-I-I’m sorry,” I murmured and kept my head low. “I just thought I might have . . .”
He stood up too abruptly, causing the chair to scrape the floor too loudly. I could see his eyes too clearly now. That imminent glare, I would never forget. That guilty feeling scratching my throat, I would always remember.
As he walked past me almost brushing by my body, he grumbled, “I thought I didn’t ask why you were here. I believed I asked who you were.”
“I’m . . .”
He cocked his head to the side, uttering, “Never mind. I’ll find out who you are.”
Then, he left like that, but he left behind something of his as well. He left his sketchbook on the table, and from that sketchbook, I figured out who he was. Eury Karasuma.
Chapter 26                                                                            Chapter 28